Kate Banford and Aaron Nevins' Kickstarter campaign raised more than $12,000 in less than 48 hours, for their planned Good Good Comedy Theater.
The founders of Five Dollar Comedy Week, an annual festival of comedy shows that don't follow the typical formats of improvisation, sketch or stand-up, produce shows throughout the year at different venues across Philadelphia under the name Good Good Comedy.
Banford and Nevins say they have enjoyed putting on shows at places such as PhilaMoca, a former mausoleum showroom on 12th Street near Callowhill, but have concluded lacking a permanent home has kept them from building larger audiences.
Nevins says the new theater will have the same singular rule as they had during their Five Dollar Comedy week.
"You could do whatever you want but the one thing you couldn't do was do a show that was just stand-up, or just sketch, or just improv," Nevins said.
Banford says by blurring the lines between genres, comedians are forced to try new approaches and create unique productions.
"It like combines improve, sketch, stand-up, storytelling, or whatever other weird thing you do, or it's something completely its own," she said.
On a recent Wednesday night, people were lined up outside PhilaMoca hoping to catch one of Good Good Comedy's nontraditional shows. "Dungeon Palz" is a live game of Dungeons and Dragons played by a panel of comedians and randomly selected audience members. The comedians play the game by employing unconventional strategies and witty one-liners. The audience roared with laughter when the group debated the merits of hiding under a sheet to avoid potential conflict.
Paul F. Tompkins is a veteran stand-up comedian, actor and writer who has appeared in many popular television shows and movies. He also debates the issues of the day with a panel of puppets as the host of the Fusion Networks late night news show, "No, You Shut Up!" Tompkins got his start in Philadelphia in 1986. He says having a theater like the one Banford and Nevins envision would have had a huge impact on his career when he was trying to get a break.
"People are always wanting to tell you what the rules are of stand-up and this is how you succeed in clubs and this is what you what you have quote unquote have to do," he said. "Just to know that if I had a crazy idea I could go to someone, I could pitch them and say I want to make this into a show and someone would be able to say, yeah I think you should develop that and figure out what its going to be and you should do it."
Greg Maughan, who started the Philly Improv Theater in 2005, is encouraging the project, but he warns Nevins and Banford they can't possibly anticipate all the hats they will have to wear running their own theater.
Well, its everything from realizing that you're the person that cleans up the bathroom if someone throws up," Maughan said, "to, you know, discovering that you're going to become a human resources professional, or discovering that you're going to become a bookkeeper."
Blanka Zizka says the Good Good project shows how much the Philadelphia theater scene is growing. Zizka knows a thing or two about starting a theater and creating productions that challenge conventions. In 1981, She was the founding artistic director of the Wilma Theater and has been there since.
"Now we are having this really amazing, fruital situation when theater and performing arts is happening in a huge way around the city," Zizka said. "A lot of small companies are being created and there is this really great fermentation going on."
Aaron Nevins hopes the Good Good Comedy Theater will help expand Philadelphia's repertoire, proving it is a great comedy city. He said, "Philly has some of the greatest comedians in the world and they're out doing something right now, and it might even only cost me $5 dollars to go see it."
After raising more than double what they sought in the kickstarter campaign, Banford and Nevins hope to open their venue this summer. They signed a lease, and say it will be in Center City, but they are keeping the address a secret until their request for a zoning variance is granted.
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